FERN: a dark comedy about a woman who gets intimate with her houseplant

Talk about an odd couple.

In his first live-action film, entitled FERN, director John Kelly explores grief and coping through the unlikely relationship between a woman and her house plant.

Commissioned by the UK’s Channel 4, the short begins with a widow (portrayed by BAFTA winner Monica Dolan) stumbling upon a withered fern. As she nurtures it back to health, the plant returns the favour by helping her move on from the death of her husband.

However, things soon take a sinister turn when one of them becomes green with envy (pun intended).

Fern by Johnny Kelly

Inspired by Kelly’s own experiences with a fern his wife takes care of, the film entertains with its dark humour, but also gives viewers something to reflect on by touching on more serious issues.

“I wanted to show how we all find comfort and look for affection in odd places, even if it’s a figment of our imagination,” Kelly told Short of the Week.

“They’re both pretty vulnerable at the start of the film and I liked the idea of charting how they feed off each other, and nurse one another back to health.

“I would hope that viewers feel happy and sad, and maybe a little bit queasy, while watching it.”

Fern by Johnny Kelly

We recently also had the opportunity to talk to Kelly about the film. In the interview below, the filmmaker shares more about the inspiration behind FERN, as well as the creative process behind it. Check it out:

FERN was commissioned by Channel 4. What was the project brief?

“It was a great brief: make anything you want so long as it’s three to four minutes long. I made a six-minute film.”

How did you come up with the concept for it?

“It’s one of those ideas you add to the notes app on your phone, it lingered in mine for a while and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My wife is green-fingered so our apartment is crawling with plants (one asparagus fern in particular always seems to be clawing at me). One day, the thought popped into my head that she and this fern might be happier with me out of the picture.”

Fern by Johnny Kelly

It must have been fun shooting a short about an affectionate yet jealous plant. Could you briefly take us through the ‘making-of’ the film?

“Yes, it was fun! One of the great joys of being a director is having permission to assemble a team and watch how they work together. In this case, I was matchmaking Monica Dolan, this amazing actress, and Kim Scopes a brilliant puppeteer. To my relief, they got on like a house on fire.

“We filmed everything ‘in camera’ – so those are all real fronds cut from a Boston fern. The only post-production trickery needed was removing the metal rods we had used to make the fern move.”

Fern by Johnny Kelly

Also, this was your first live-action short film. How was it?

“The biggest difference was the change of pace. After 10 years of animation, it was like hitting warp drive. We shot 55 setups in three days, and there were 17 of us squeezed into a small apartment. It was quite intense, but filming scenes like a fern using chopsticks helped team morale.”

What’s next for you?

“I’m saving up for the next short film!”

Fern by Johnny Kelly

You can learn more about FERN by heading over to the short film’s website.